A Year of Old Masters and Young Pretenders; It May Take a While to Get Going, but 2006 Promises Major Exhibitions of Michelangelo, Ruisdael and Velazquez

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Byline: BRIAN SEWELL

FOR the visual arts emergence from hibernation is to be very slow this winter. It takes more than a little hot tea poured onto his nose to wake the Dormouse from his January slumbers, but no echoing trump is to alert him to the presence of great wonders at the National Gallery or Royal Academy, and shuffling the latter's diploma landscapes or exposing the atrophied imaginations of Academicians who have been to China are mere dribbles of lukewarm tea.

Only at Christie's is there a sign of life, and there not much of it, in Old School Ties, a celebration of art produced by Old Harrovians described by the curator as "a renowned group of Modern British artists". I expect better syntax for such fees - they are not a group, and if such artists as Winston Churchill, Eliot Hodgkin, Victor Pasmore and Cecil Beaton individually achieved renown, they did so much more in spite of Harrow than because of it.

It is a selling exhibition, its objective to raise funds for the improvement of the school's art facilities.

The first serious, though small, exhibition of the year is devoted to Jacob Epstein and Dora Gordine, a minor sculptress whom only the very old recall.

Russian by birth, encouraged (she said) by Maillol, oriental in subject, in low fashion in England throughout the 1930s and now forgotten, her faint kinships with Epstein are here exploited to ensure more interest than her work alone could rouse; this, more weakly French than English, was largely a portrait formula that, apart from surface texture and patination, changed very little over four decades or so. She was, and perhaps is still, more intriguing for her lifestyle than her art - even so, she is a suitable subject for the kind of forensic exhibition that is done so well by the London Jewish Museum of Art.

At the Guildhall Art Gallery we are to have London Now - City of Heaven, City of Hell, in which Magnus Irvine, Arturo di Stefano, Ben Johnson and others state their pessimistic, optimistic and stoical views of metropolitan squalor, exploitation, poverty and vice.

These three, at least, seem to be artists who have long deserved a better showing than a thousand others who have caught the eye of those who control state patronage, but this gallery seems always to be so uncertain of its objectives as to be virtually useless to the contemporary artist.

The Hayward Gallery, which for far too long has done too little, promises first Dan Flavin, the tedious American wh 1960s did so much to rescent lights as a med art, and then, in M aspects of Undercove - undercover here be zine Documents edit Bataille, a gadfly w himself as being "by t realism" rather than one of the most limite cally and intellectua the boundaries of art gon-ridden, too. Bat other hand, was genu tive, subversive and en January ends with bling at the Marlbor an exhibition of more work - her paintings less sea, the most co lifetime's labour, her John Berger, Michael the inevitable Stephe more mannerism tha ho in the early establish fluodium of visual May, turns to er Surrealism eing the magated by Georges who described the side of Surof it. Flavin is ed men, technially, to stretch t, the most jartaille, on the uinely provocanquiring.

Maggi Hamrough Gallery, e or less recent s of the relentonvincing of a r portraits of * Gambon and * Fry perhaps an insight. The show coincides with the publication of autobiographical conversations with Andrew Lambirth, amusing, occasionally revealing in a gossipy way, but rarely deep; the Dormouse senses that the real Hambling and her wounds, misgivings and uncertainties are deftly hidden. The illustrations alternate as not quite catalogue raisonne and not quite the story of her life, but both book and exhibition will further consolidate her position as a much-loved public figure - no Dormouse will be able to count the interviews on Radio Four.

For most of February Agnew's will exhibit the paintings of Andrew Gadd, who, as a student at the RA in the early 1990s, seemed greatly gifted and remarkably determined, and yet has never reached the celestial heights of either Tate, never attracted the attention of the blind men who run the Arts and British councils. …